Gun Viiolence (Revisited)

                                                                                                        

“Gun Violence”

January 20, 2013

 Thomas B. Cundiff

Micah 6: 6-8

What God Requires

6“With what shall I come before the LORD,

and bow myself before God on high?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

7Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

8He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 22:  36-39

 

36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

I.  Framing the Issue

“Gun–violence”!   Still fresh in our minds are the 20 innocent first graders shot and killed at the Sandy   HookElementary School on December 14th of last year.  It still makes me want to cry thinking about beautiful children—as well as the children we have lost on the streets of our city (Saginaw, MI).

I join with the parents from Newtown, Connecticut and around the nation calling for a national conversation on “gun violence”.  We need to join with women like Tiffanny Goodman who produced the wonderful play, “Speak Up, Speak Out” in honoring the memory of her son who was shot and killed back in March of 2009.

One thing I will not do in this conversation is challenge the Second Amendment right in our Constitution to “keep and bear arms”.   What I am hoping to do is frame this issue of gun violence around the people and violence in our society with guns being the tool many use to commit horrendous crimes!  This being said…..some facts to consider:

First, these facts as reported and checked and double checked from several publications including Presbyterians Today[1]:

Did you know that over eighty (80) people die each day from gunshot wounds? That adds up to roughly 30,000 women and men and children who die each year from guns.   

Did you know there are over 300 million guns in the United States?  This is just under our population of 315 millions people in this country—almost one gun for every man and woman and child living in this country.

Did you know that gun murder rates in the United States per 100,000 people are more than 17 times higher than those in Australia, 35 times higher than in Germany, 37 times higher than in Spain and 355 times higher than in Japan.”[2]

Second, it’s a known fact that guns do not shoot themselves.  People kill people. Gun violence is more about those who use the guns than the weapons themselves.

Third, there are millions of law-abiding citizens who legally own guns who are trained to use a variety of different types of guns for sport, collection or security.

Fourth, a question:  Why don’t we hear on the news more stories about the lives that are saved each and every day because armed police and security personnel and responsible citizens are committed to keeping their families and others safe and secure?

Fifth, we need to recognize the reality that there are many types of weapons:  guns, sticks, rocks, knives, baseball bats or fists – even bombs that kill!

These points/questions being made, my focus today:

As Children of God created in the image of God, how are we to approach this question of gun violence as a church?  To answer this question we seek guidance from scripture and the Mosaic Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”!   Guidance is also found in answering the New Commandment and Jesus’ call to “love our neighbors as ourselves”.  And this being the beginning of the Global Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, Micah’s question asked by Christians around the globe:  “What does the Lord require of us?”

II.  Wilmette, Illinois Murders[3]

Let me take you for a moment to the village of Wilmette, Illinois, fourteen miles north of downtown Chicago.  Quoting from the pastor of the Wilmette church after a double murder and suicide took place on church grounds in 2009:

“It was viewed as an anomaly,” says Sarah Butter, the pastor. “It was not the kind of thing people expected to happen in that kind of neighborhood.”   She is uncomfortably aware, however, that on the south side of Chicago, suicides and murders in poorer neighborhoods with fewer resources happen far too often and with very little notice.  

 Rick Wiley, who committed the Wilmette murders, was a repeat offender.  He had served 15 years in prison for killing his first wife in 1985—he used a knife.  A member of the Wilmette church, he also struggled with a mental disease called “intermittent explosive disorder”.  He was released after only 15 years after killing his first wife.[4]  He would have served a life sentence had the judge in his case not ruled him as being insane.   

 After Rick Wiley’s release from prison he returned home and the church welcomed the prodigal son back—I would add, cautiously and with forgiving hearts.  He was a member of the church and was received as such!  The church helped him rebuild his life.  He got a job as a carpenter.  He married the church secretary, Kathy Motes, who had a young son named Chris. The congregation let them live in a house on the church grounds. 

 Things were going pretty well until….March of 2009, the worst thing happened. After an argument one weekend, Wiley shot and killed his wife, his stepson and himself using a ‘black powder, muzzle loading Civil War replica rifle’ that was part of a collection owned by his step-son who was murdered.  . 

III.  A Mental Issue

As reflected in this story, Mental Illness tied to those who commit gun violence is a critical issue.  How do we deal with the Rick Wiley’s who are found insane for a murder and then released back to society?  Did the judge mess up by ruling him “insane” allowing for his early release after just 15 years for a murder?  What kind of treatment did he receive upon his release?  Did the church members or anyone around this man and family know he had a mental health history that pointed specifically toward violent behavior?  Lots of questions.

 This past week the President put forward some proposals that at first seemed weak in the area of Mental Health—until I read the full report.  Specifically, the President is looking for more diagnosis and treatment of young people with mental health issues between the ages of 16 and 25.—“high risk mental health individuals”.[5]  This plan calls for helping schools train mental health professionals in diagnosing mental health issues that may put others at risk.  I also like the proposal that teachers and students get “Mental Health First Aid Training” in helping to identify problems like bullying.

For the sake of the wellbeing of others, authorities must find ways to identify threats before someone goes off the deep end in locating an easy-to find ‘Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle’ with lots of ammunition in acting out some kind of horrendous crime.

 IV.   A Behavior Issue—Teaching Non-Violence

 Which leads to another concern I have outside the arena of mental health.  Violent Behavior in American Culture, especially in urban environments, has become prevalent.  You don’t have to be mentally ill to be in a gang.  You don’t have to be unstable to throw a punch at a brother or sister or neighbor or parent who is upsetting you.  Anger management is an issue many young people need to address.

It’s not hard to imagine being angry when living in poverty!  Domestic violence is on the rise.  More and more parents are fighting…..shoving and punching and shouting in many ways is the NORM in solving even simple problems.  And the sad fact, easy access to guns makes for lots shootings for a wide variety of reasons…..drugs, gangs, simple disagreements…..and shooting somebody when you are angry is so much easier than talking!  Insane!  Back to this becoming a Mental Health Issue!

On this eve of the national holiday in honoring the life of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this is what he preached:  “At the center of non-violence is the principle of love.”[6] To see all the high crime rates, one has to wonder what has happened to this biblical foundation of love in human relations?

What do we need to do in our communities and schools and churches in teaching and preaching non-violence?

I think back to when the East Side Soup Kitchen was in our church building—often 300+ people from every walk of life coming into our building every day for a hot meal.  The roughest and toughest people in our town would come through the doors of our gym.  Security was tight.  Everyone was “wanded” to make sure they weren’t carrying weapons.  To her credit, Pam Cole and her staff are gifted in immediately created a culture of non-violence and respect and peace in serving hot meals.  I am so proud of you for letting the patrons of the Soup Kitchen – some with violent backgrounds, into our building.  In reality, what happened at the Wilmette church could have happened here!  Sick behavior that causes tragic things to happen to innocent people that has sadly, become part of our culture.

In this church, for as long as I can remember, we have had tough standards when it comes to teaching participants in the Youth center and summer Magic how to solve problems without the use of violence.

The director of the youth center shared with me a while back the story of a youngster she had to send home from the after school program because of his violent, pushing and shoving and abusive language.  When this child returned with his mother she quickly discovered the source of this child’s violent behavior.   This mother was angry to the point of wanting to hit a door because she felt her young and immature son had been disrespected by the youth leaders?  This parent obviously had a lot of issues—and her behavior was reflected in the behavior of her son.  It’s no wonder so many teachers, particularly in low income urban districts, report having so many issues with behavior in their classrooms.[7]

A few years ago I was given a copy of a “Pledge of Non-Violence” that was used with our own Summer Magic program.   A copy of this pledge is found in your bulletin.  Children in Summer Magic have been asked to actually sign a commitment to non-violence when attending this program.

“To Respect Self and Others; To Forgive; To Play Creatively;  To be Courageous in challenging unfairness and violence in all its forms…..and to stand with others who are treated unfairly”……wonderful standards!

Related to what we teach our children, many who have access to violent video games and movies are children who have seen the violence first hand on the streets….children who think its normal to see their parents fight….and kids who also know how easy it is to get a gun.

It’s no wonder so many of our children grow up desensitized into thinking fists and foul language – even guns are the only way to solve problems.

It is from our pulpits we must share within our communities:  Get rid of the illegal guns.  If you have a gun keep it secure and away from all children.

We need to preach:  “Enough is Enough!”  If we can’t get rid of the guns we must at least become advocates for safe gun ownership.

We also need to preach and teach adopting an attitude of ZERO TOLERANCE when it comes to violent behavior.

In our homes, schools and churches we need to pick up the ball and proactively teach non-violence.  We need to be intentional in modeling non-violence in our programming.  I have been thinking:  Perhaps this “Pledge for Non-Violence” needs to be posted on every entrance to this building and buildings and schools  and agencies throughout our community?

To again invoke a quite from Dr. Martin Luther King jr, “Non-violence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.  You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.”   It needs to be part of our mission as a church to get this message out into the larger community.

V.  A Gun Issue

Mental and behavioral health and violence in our culture aside, a few thoughts about guns.  For years the Presbyterian Church has been engaged in resisting gun violence.  The most recent document coming out of the General Assembly in 2010 is titled:  “Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call[8]   While there has and always will always be healthy debate on this issue, these are a few of the recommendations – not unlike the recommendations brought forward by the White House this past week…..

  1. Limit legal personal gun acquisition to one handgun per month.  (not on the President’s list)
  1. Require licensing, registration, and waiting periods to allow comprehensive background checks, and cooling-off periods for all guns sold.  {The President is recommending a national, universal registry of weapons}
  1. Close the “gun show” loophole by requiring background checks for all gun buyers.
  1. Ban semiautomatic assault weapons, armor piercing handgun ammunition, and .50 caliber sniper rifles.
  1. Advocate for new technologies to aid law-enforcement agencies to trace crime guns and promote public safety.
  1. And a complex recommendation instructing all agencies of the government to DESTROY the records of all persons whose weapons were purchased legally.  {sensitive to privacy concerns}

On these six points you may or may not agree.  I would add to this list finding ways to identify and treat persons with mental health issues and violent tendencies.  I would also add to this list the President’s call for more study and research from the ATF and ways to share information about people applying for guns who have criminal backgrounds or mental health issues.

I think something that is going to be a GIVEN throughout the nation, the training of school professionals at all levels in providing better security in schools…..and on my list, the need for us to be proactive advocates in our churches and schools and businesses for non-violence.

VI.  Conclusion

So what does the Lord require but to but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?

I truly believe God has created us to live and enact good, healthy and productive lives.  It’s time to become advocates for peace in turning the tide of violence in our communities into something positive, something that embraces our image of God that helps us build positive and productive lives.  We must become, as Isaiah calls, “the repairs of the breach in restoring peace in our cities….”[9]

We must help by enacting policies that make a positive difference.  This can be done without hurting Second Amendment rights.  This must be done in adhering to the same theme I have been preaching all month – putting on Christ, clothing ourselves in Christ’s values in living our lives as role models in promoting non-violence and peace.  We must become advocates in arming ourselves with skills in helping to defuse violent behavior and treating those with violent tendencies who are mentally ill.   We must become role models in how to solve problems in our homes in peaceful ways.  We must demonstrate in and through out lives all the things listed in this “Pledge of Non-Violence”.

The discussion on “gun violence” must continue.  We must never forget the little children who have been needlessly killed.  Our discussions must lead to action.  We must continue to search for ways to use our faith in God to be “keepers of peace” in our lives and world.

So what does the Lord require but to but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly (and peaceably) with God?

AMEN


[1]  Presbyterians Today, September 2012, Jim Atwood, pg. 26.

[2]   Ibid.

[3]  I wrote this sermon based on this Presbyterians Today article along with articles n the Chicago Tribune (3/3/099, Michael Tarm) and other internet searches.

[4]   Chicago Tribune, Michael Tarm, March 3, 2009 (Internet)

[7]   Story is a couple of years old.  I embellished it a bit to make my point.

[8]   PCUSA 2019TH General Assembly, 2010.

[9]   Isaiah 58

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